Actor Kani Kusruti who has appeared in films like "Kerala Cafe" and "Pisaasu" recently acted in a short film called "Memories of a Machine" directed by Shailaja Padindala.
The film, which was uploaded on YouTube, is about the sexual awakening of a young woman played by Kani. "Memories" has generated a lot of outrage and debate since then: one of the episodes narrated by the character has her recalling her past when she allowed a school peon to touch her intimately at the age of 8. Denying that she felt any trauma because of the incident, the character goes on to say that the incident led her to explore her body by herself.
Kani opens up to The News Minute about the controversy and her personal response to the film's contentious narrative.
The reaction to the film has been quite divided. Were you anticipating this?
Iâ€™d imagined that a film on sexuality would inspire a wide range of readings and critiques from very diverse audiences. I had not expected the film to polarise audiences between those imposing a binary interpretation and those willing to engage with the grayscale. I was most definitely not expecting some individuals, otherwise defenders of free speech, to arbitrarily call for a ban, based on their own subjective reading of the film. I do believe that the film could have engaged with the discourse with more nuance and complexity. While our shortcomings as makers may have informed the more extreme of reactions, it has been also reassuring to read posts of and receive mails from audiences who have read every idea, emotion and reflection exactly as we had intended.
The main contention is that the film normalises child sexual abuse? Do you think that is a right assessment?
I feel very certain that the film doesnâ€™t normalise or defend abuse of any kind, whatsoever. So I donâ€™t think itâ€™s a fair assessment at all. The fallacy arises from conflating the domain of child sexual experiences with the rubric of child sexual abuse. This makes it very challenging to speak about various encounters that many people may have had which donâ€™t fall within a victim/trauma narrative, and as the film shows, can be accounted from the domain of curiosity and desire. The actions of the peon would constitute an offence under the law, but the scene is not a legal or moral deconstruction of his actions - the scene is about the girl, her sexuality, her power dynamics and her memories, which are neither juridicial, nor prescriptive.
Do you think that people are not ready to accept that children also have sexual feelings?
I wonder why would it be so difficult to accept it. All research points to the fact that most children start exploring their sexuality very early on. And do we need to even fall back on research to acknowledge this? All of us were children once - and most of us will remember being curious about our bodies, donâ€™t we?
We are a conservative society where women are not encouraged to speak about their sexuality openly. Did you have any misgivings about doing this role?
No, I didnâ€™t.
As an actor, what process did you go through before arriving at the character of the woman you were playing? How did Shailaja prepare you for it?
My first rendition of the character was a bit more forthright, candid, slightly stoic and somewhat impassive. Shailaja showed me old pictures of mine that carried shades of coyness and sheepishness. I saw her as a woman completely in charge of her sexual experiences, very cognisant of her desires, demanding what she wants, and denying anything she isnâ€™t comfortable offering. I thought her coyness and frivolity are projections - strategies she has developed to wade through the patriarchal landscape she has found herself in.
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